Sunday, December 23, 2007

What new

Robots Robots Robots
Sean Carruthers

RoboPanda
www.wowwee.com
$150
People may be surprised to see the RoboPanda after seeing some of WowWee’s other robotic toys — unlike the RoboSapien (which made a habit of grunting) or our recently-reviewed RoboQuad (which made a habit of going on the prowl), the RoboPanda is more of an educational robot. Designed to appeal more to a younger crowd, it’s mobility is more limited: it’s actually mostly designed to just sit upright and interact directly with a child sitting in front of it. Pick it up and it asks where it’s going; place it face-down and it’ll ask for help getting up. But while it’s sitting upright and interacting, you can play games with it, have it tell a story, or other such things. It has rudimentary awareness of its environment, including the ability to recognize it’s own teddy bear, and it can see a few things nearby. It also has an educational aspect to it, explaining facts, and asking for input from the child. Its extreme cutesiness will definitely limit its appeal to very young children…at a certain age children will move on to something a bit more mature. The one big pro is that the RoboPanda comes with two program cartridges, and if it catches on, there may be more cartridges coming.

R2-D2 Interactive Droid
starwars.hasbro.com
$120
Is there anyone out there who hasn’t wanted their very own R2-D2 protocol droid? This interactive (and undersized) version of R2-D2 doesn’t do everything the movie version of R2-D2 did, but it responds to a small handful of voice commands, wanders around in its environment, plays games like spin the droid…and can even hold a drink for you with the extendible claw…a light drink, anyhow. Like the R2-D2 unit in the movie, this one doesn’t always follow instructions, shaking its head in defiance of an order. It even has a bit of personality, responding positively to some names, and negatively to others.

Boe-Bot
www.parallax.com
$149
Those who aren’t happy with a pre-built robot may want to take a look at the Boe-Bot kit from Parallex (available from our friends at ThinkGeek.com) — it’s a program-it-yourself kit that comes with a programmable processor, wheels, motors, and assorted electronics components that can be placed into the “breadboard” on top of the main circuit board. No, you’re not going to wind up with something as immediately fun as the Robosapien or the R2-D2 droid, but those who dive into this kit will learn something about electronics, programming, and robotics. Designed for those with a bit of patience.

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